Teachers not using text books

Exclusive: Less than one in 10 teachers set to use textbooks in most lessons by 2020

Helen Ward

29th September 2017 at 05:04

The Tes-YouGov findings follow calls from ministers to use textbooks more in class, in line with top-performing nations

Fewer teachers are using textbooks in most of their lessons, and the number is set to drop further, a survey has found.

One in 10 teachers say they use textbooks in more than half of their lessons – a drop from 13 per cent three years ago. And just 8 per cent of those surveyed think they will be using textbooks in most or all of their lessons by 2020, a Tes-YouGov survey reveals.

The finding has come despite calls in recent years for teachers to use textbooks more often, in line with the world’s top-performing education systems.

Schools minister Nick Gibb has railed against an“anti-textbook ethos”in the profession, and the government has provided match-funding aimed at increasing the use of textbooks in the classroom.

But a major reason for the declining use of textbooks appears to be their cost in a tight financial climate for schools.

Plummeting down the priority list

“The squeeze on budgets and the prohibitive cost of many textbooks has deterred some heads of maths from purchasing new class sets to support delivery of the 9-1 GCSE and reformed A levels,” said David Miles, spokesman for the Mathematical Association.

“It is a huge expense to buy textbooks for key stage 4,” agreed Jo Morgan, acting head of maths at Glyn School, Surrey. “Schools didn’t feel the need to buy them for the new GCSE when they could get plenty online.”

Earlier this year, the NUT and ATL teaching unions – which have since merged to form the NEU – revealed that 73 per cent of their surveyed members said their school had cut spending on books and equipment.

Tim Oates, director of research and development at Cambridge Assessment and author of the influential “Why textbooks count”policy paper, acknowledged that funding is a problem. But he said that cost was not the only reason why textbooks may be falling out of favour in schools.

Oates believes that there is still a strong anti-textbook bias in the profession amid a trend towards digital resources [note: Tes’ parent company produces digital resources for schools, although Teseditorial operates independently].

Figures from the Publishers Association also show a drop in demand for textbooks. In 2013, 21.2 million units were sold, but the total fell to 20.5m in 2016. “I think [the decline in sales] can be explained by pressure on the educational budget,” said Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association.

Time-saving textbooks

Advocates of textbooks often argue that their usage can reduce teacher workload. John Blake, head of education at the Policy Exchange thinktank and a former teacher, sees this as one of the most pressing arguments in textbooks’ favour.

“I think there is a peculiar reluctance among teachers to draw on textbooks, although we know they are a key feature of successful teaching elsewhere – and they reduce workload,” he said.

“There is a huge amount of workload that teachers seem to think is a necessary and vital part of their job. But I don’t think it is massively educationally effective or useful. I don’t think you need to have identikit lessons, but greater and more regular reliance on textbooks – the majority of time for the majority of teachers – would save time and would mean a more consistent level of educational quality.

“In general in English education, we ought to be using more textbooks, more often.”